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Next Up - Louisville

Is another Duke victory in the Cards?

NCAA Basketball: Duke at Louisville
Feb 12, 2019; Louisville, KY, USA; Duke Blue Devils guard Tre Jones (3) shoots the ball over Louisville Cardinals guard Ryan McMahon (30) during the first half at KFC Yum! Center.
Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

We haven’t really talked about last year’s Duke-Louisville game very much yet even though the rematch is this Saturday in Cameron.

It’s inevitable though: people are going to be talking about it. And why wouldn’t they?

It was a 23 point, second-half comeback.

Actually it was a 23 point comeback in less than 10 minutes, capped by the ridiculous swagger of a no-look between the legs pass from RJ Barrett to Cam Reddish for a huge three with 1:29 left to tie the game 69-69.

It was also the real debut of Jordan Goldwire as a force. He had played for Duke before obviously but when they paired Goldwire and Tre Jones and started pressing, something incredible happened. Watching Louisville collapse was shocking and in a way a bit voyeuristic. You saw things about a team that you hardly ever see. We saw something similar in 2001 when Maryland fell apart in the Final Four but that was a slower collapse.

Losing a 23 point in ten minutes is just about catastrophic and it presaged a larger fall for the team as Louisville mostly struggled for the rest of the season. The Cards nearly fell apart in the next game, against Clemson, holding on for a 56-55 win.

Louisville then lost to Syracuse, Virginia and Boston College before beating Notre Dame and losing again to Virginia in the regular season finale.

They did beat Notre Dame again in the ACC Tournament - remember the Irish were decimated by injuries last season - before losing to UNC in the second round.

The Cards drew Minnesota in the NCAA tournament. The Gophers are of course coached by Richard Pitino, whose father, Rick Pitino, Louisville had fired during the Adidas/FBI scandal, thus presumably giving Pops Pitino a certain amount of poetic revenge.

So that was all last season, a transitional season from the Pitino regime to the Chris Mack era.

Mack’s style is slower and more deliberate than Pitino, who loved to press and run. It’s still effective but it doesn’t seem to have fully won over Louisville fans just yet. One of the problems he has - and has most overcome - is that he inherited plays who were recruited for one type of system and who are now being asked to play in a very different one.

After a couple of losses this season, fans were irate and there were reports that one had made a death threat against Louisville star Jordan Nwora after said fan lost a $15 bet on the Louisville-Kentucky game (we’re not ruling out that he was a Kentucky fan).

It’s not fair to blame Nwora (6-7 JR) though. The guy is a legit lottery prospect. He’s a superb athlete and he’s doing as much as he can. Unfortunately, as everyone finds out eventually, you have to have help and if you don’t have other offensive threats, it’s not that hard to defend a team, let alone an individual player. At a minimum, you can do what Duke did with Len Bias and Rodney Rogers and let him do his damage and shut the other guys down.

And certainly Louisville has other guys who are capable.

Steven Enoch (6-10/255 SR) gets 10.8 ppg and nearly six boards. Dwayne Sutton picks up 9.2 ppg. Ryan McMahon (6-0 SR) - the unknown shooter Dick Vitale raved about to Pitino when he was in high school - is getting 9.0 ppg and is a deadly three point shooter.

Louisville has some really good three point shooters actually. McMahon is hitting at 43.3 percent while Nwora is up to 44 percent.

David Johnson (6-5 FR) checks in at 37.5 percent, Darius Perry (6-2 JR) at 36.1 percent.

Duke is a bit better in this regard: Vernon Carey is shooting 50 percent (we know he doesn’t do it often but he can shoot, trust us). Cassius Stanley is at 44.1 percent, Joey Baker at 43.5 (we haven’t heard whether Baker will be ready for Louisville), Wendell Moore 42.9, Matthew Hurt 40.3, Jack White 37.1, Tre Jones 35.7, Jordan Goldwire 34.8 and Alex O’Connell, though shooting 26 percent, is streaky.

We don’t think offense is going to be the driving force here though it wouldn’t surprise us if we see some hot three point shooting from either side.

Louisville’s version of the Pack Line has been solid although not as good as Virginia’s and they have two solid big men to throw at Carey. He’s had a tremendous freshman year but as the competition has ramped up and people are really working him over. Look for Louisville to, within the rules obviously, mug him inside.

On the the other hand, Duke’s defense has been disruptive and aggressive. This group has been brilliant at getting into passing lanes and making simple ball movement a real headache.

The Blue Devils really miss Moore though as he sits out while his repaired finger heals. With Jones, Goldwire and Moore, Duke can defend just about anyone outside of centers. Even without Moore, an improving Stanley has shown himself capable of being a superb defender. But Moore gives Duke a versatile agent that changes and compounds things.

Louisville has had a solid year to dwell on their shocking collapse last winter and you can believe they’d like to avenge it. As a matter of fact, we see that emotion as a two-edged sword. They’ll certainly be fired up and that’s something to worry about.

On the other hand though, Duke left Clemson frustrated not because they lost but because they didn't play winning basketball.

The team and staff have spent the time since looking at why they lost and what they’re going to do about it. What we expect you’ll see on Saturday is two teams determined to atone for poor play. For Louisville, that’s the Duke Comeback. For Duke, it’s failing to match Clemson’s intensity and character.

Can Louisville win in Cameron? Yes of course they can. But they’ll have to play at a supremely high level to do it because we suspect Duke is going to respond to the Clemson game with an angry effort. This should be one of the most intense and - we hope - best executed games of the year.